Mimos – 25 years and going strong

By KJ John
Jun 7, 11 | MalaysiaKini

This series of three columns I will call the 25th anniversary series. Three organisations I have been connected with have celebrated their 25th anniversary this year. First, let me congratulate Mimos Berhad for its 25th anniversary celebrations.

I hear it was a genuine occasion for celebration given the Mimos 2.0 version and their “outputs” in terms of the idea productisation vide patents and IPs registered were on public display. I was not there. I was with the National IT Council (NITC) and Mimos for only eight years between 1996 and 2004, whereas those who were publicly recognised were the original founders; all who go back from the very beginning of Mimos in 1985.

Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed my limited time of eight years at Mimos Berhad, although ours was only a policy function, as the secretariat to the original National IT Council. In fact, the then-president and CEO, or my immediate boss, was among the best bosses I ever had, with some exceptions of PTD bosses who were more transformational and charismatic leaders, but who also taught me much.

Teachers have a lasting impact on one’s life. Mere “bosses” only deploy authority to insist on blind compliance, or, “to do it my way.” During our time (30 of us) with the NITC could have been more fruitful had the government not made the categorical error and mistake of transferring the NITC secretariat back to the ministry by 2004.

Today, I dare say that the resultant function and responsibility is almost a dead function. But, alas, governments can make grave mistakes with impunity but no one has to pay the price, except the citizens who are the victims through the resultant poor governance.

Let me therefore dedicate this column to the good and great people at Mimos Berhad; the researchers who worked hard with us because of their passion to dive into truth matters. Yes, science and technology is almost always about truth matters of the material world.

Unfortunately though, our everyday problems in life do not care too much about real truth; in fact, for most of us truth does not even really matter. I must say that I had the greatest pleasure of working and enjoying life within that R&D/public policy space of this nation.

Started as an R&D department

Mimos started as a mere R&D department under the PM’s Department with a RM5 million ‘angel grant’ to “get the E&E research projects started”. The process to undertake such “convincement” took the founder and CEO some years while he was already the dean of the Faculty of Engineering at UM at the young age of 28.

For those interested in a more complete version, please review one chapter in the Isis 25th anniversary publication written by the former CEO of Mimos Berhad. That is a great and first-time published story of how things really happened during the birth of the NITC and Mimos Berhad.

The then aspiring and young research scientist of 28 years of age and dean, who holds a doctorate from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, wrote his first paper about the future implications of microelectronics and what such connectivity potentially engendered for the future of our nation.

He finally got the paper to his nncle, then a minister in the Cabinet, who gave it to the then-International Trade and Industry Minister, who made the decision to give the RM5 million grant, as Prime Minister and emplaced the unit under the Prime Minister’s Department. Their office was an old bungalow in the PM’s Department area.

On Jan 1, 1985 Mimos was born. In 1987, Dr Mohamed Awang Lah and team developed the first and original Malaysian link to what is now called the world wide web. Then it was simply called the Internet.

In 1991 that same internet service was turned into an Internet Service Provider and was unveiled as Jaring. Jaring and subsequently TM’s Internet service brought Malaysia to be among the region’s most sophisticated information superhighways.

Therefore in 1995, Mimos was also given the role and appointed by the cabinet as the secretariat to the National IT Council. Its first director was a lady PTD officer on secondment from Mampu. Also in 1995, the NITC team at Mimos “hosted the famous Kenichi Ohmae” and his team of consultants from McKinsey who subsequently sold and ushered the birth of the MSC or the Multimedia Super Corridor.

In 1996 Mimos was also corporatised on the same day as Sirim as an R&D company under the Ministry of Finance with three core functions: R&D in the electrical and electronics Sector, national IT policy development, and IT business development.

The recent 25th anniversary celebrations honoured and made claims about successes, but allow me to also state some of the not-so-successful areas and arenas, also for mutual learning and growth. Development includes learning from our past mistakes.

The introduction of the Internet into Malaysia

In my hindsight the greatest success of Mimos was the introduction of the Internet into Malaysia as early as 1991. That allowed and enabled the MSC and all her subsequent multimedia project successes.

Nevertheless, without such a glamorous launch and fanfare, even Singapore has succeeded more than Malaysia in terms of Internet application and uses nationwide to improve productivity and its competitiveness. We in Malaysia did not use our visionary and head start in the Internet to move faster ahead in the world.

Another equally well-kept secret by Mimos but which cost the rakyat billions is the wafer fabrication plant at Mimos Berhad set up in 1997. Mimos fabricated and developed her first locally-designed integrated circuit and microprocessor but sadly today no one talks about this R&D wafer fab which has yet to contribute any significant impact within the E&E sector of Malaysia. One needs to ask and answer why.

Mimos has only spun-off two known entities as far as I know in its entire 25 year lifetime. Both these entities were nurtured and spun off with the support of the NITC. They are the Global Secretariat of the Global Knowledge Partnership and what was called NISER or the National ICT Security and Emergency Response and Computer Forensic Services which is today called Cybersecurity Malaysia.

The MSC and MDeC had two review processes undertaken for its performance and impact evaluation in the past 15 years. To my mind, it would also be useful to review and understand why Mimos Berhad after 25 years has not been able to commercialise and spin-off her internally nurtured business entities.

R&D without identifiable innovations which have made an obvious impact cannot be worth much given the very high learning costs. That would be a worthwhile self-inquiry after 25 years of existence. May God bless Malaysia.

* KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. He is now dean of the Faculty of Economics and Policy Science at UCSI University, Malaysia.

  1. #1 by sheriff singh on Tuesday, 7 June 2011 - 7:27 pm

    MIMOS is still alive?

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